Dance fusions spiked with bhangra magic

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      It’s the time of the year when bhangra maniacs get their dose of a Punjabi folk dance fused with hip-hop, Bollywood, and other styles at the City of Bhangra Festival. Presented by the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society, the festival, which opened February 29, is now in its fourth year.

      With bhangra performances a weekly staple of the Indian wedding and community show circuit, the organizers have responded to criticism that their core bhangra dance competition was becoming stale by making the nine-day event a celebration of multicultural dance and music, with bhangra as the big daddy of it all.

      While the Coast Capital Bhangra Competition, slated to take place on Saturday (March 8) at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, remains the centrepiece of the event, the VIBC team has added events like Transfusion, a truly unique dance event that took place on March 1 at the Vancouver International Film Centre, mingling everything from classical Indian and Celtic dance styles with breakdancing and bhangra.

      The brainchild of Tarun Nayar, the VIBC’s artistic director, Transfusion brought together performers as diverse and accomplished as classical Indian dancer Sitara Thobani, Moving Dragon’s Chengxin Wei, and bharata natyam specialist Raakhi Sinha, among others, for 10 distinctive works. And while not all the pieces blended seamlessly, some of them created real magic, particularly Kaia Duggan, Karen Michelle Pitkethly, and Trisha Rampersad’s untitled mix of Irish, flamenco, and kathak moves, as well as Ulka Mohanty and Reena Almoneda-Chang’s If You Knew What I Knew, a fusion of contemporary bharata natyam and African dance.

      Nayar says the project grew out of the Celtic-bhangra piece he and his Delhi2Dublin ensemble performed at the VIBC in 2007. He expanded on that combination to include other forms of dance and music that have a connection to Indian culture. “Transfusion shows the interrelationships between Indian dances and other similar folk-dance traditions,” Nayar told the Georgia Straight from Calgary, where he is on tour with his band. “During my research, I found Indian dance has been heavily influenced by and has influenced dance cultures all over the world. So this show was an exploration of those influences.”

      Nayar hopes to take Transfusion to the next level for future VIBC events, by creating one seamless piece of dance and music that would not only fuse the different dance forms, but would also tell stories from the multicultural landscape.

      It’s not too late to check out the VIBC, as two key events still remain. Downtown Bhangra, an outdoor concert featuring bands and dancers, kicks off at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 5:30 p.m. on Friday (March 7), and again on Saturday (March 8), with an 11 a.m. start time.

      Saturday’s main event—the Coast Capital Bhangra Dance Competition—features North America’s 10 top dance teams going for the $5,000 grand prize, along with an appearance by U.K. bhangra legend Malkit Singh. For more information, check out